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Maryam Meddin is the founder of a new, innovative behavioural health clinic in London, The Soke (the name is taken from its location – South Kensington), a first-of-its kind clinic bringing together mental health and wellbeing services with professional development support, all under one roof. 

Maryam attributes her interest in mental health to a personal history that includes an interrupted education, growing up in a war zone in Iran and Iraq, an attempt to resettle as a refugee in the UK aged 16, destitution (she came to the UK with nowhere to go and would sleep at Heathrow airport) as well as experiencing the horror of suicide among members of her immediate family.

But it was Maryam’s life experiences that then led her to embark on a Masters in psychotherapy & counselling which led her to work part time in an NHS clinic for a couple of years, offering psychotherapy to severely traumatised refugees. Her idea for The Soke stemmed from there, as she felt the industry needed to change.

Here Maryam tells us about setting up The Soke during the Corona crisis, and how humour, iced coffee and dogs help get her through.

The Soke which is set to change the way we manage behavioural and mental wellbeing
Tell us about your work…

“I’m the founder of a new behavioural health centre called The Soke. We’re making psychotherapy, psychiatry and other non-acute mental health services more accessible and more comfortable – literally & metaphorically –for everyone. 

There are about ten of us (including a clinical board of five) turning the wheels backstage, and then of course numerous other practitioners offering different specialties to make sure we pretty much cover every type of expertise that could be helpful to our clients. 

What I love about what I’m doing is that it’s universally relevant. There isn’t anyone whose mental health doesn’t factor into their life, it’s just a question of where they sit on the spectrum of wellness, and we can make a difference to them all.”

Where do you physically work currently? 

“I work in an iconic building – which used to be the Queen’s Elm pub – in South Kensington. Directly outside sits The Flower Stand which is also a bit of a Chelsea landmark. In this otherwise completely urban corner, I’m greeted every morning, and bid farewell every night, with the view and fragrance of nature’s finest.”

What is the best thing about your work?

“Without question it’s my colleagues. I’m part of an organisation where people are required to bring their brains, their compassion and their ethics to work in equal measure and it makes for a really unique culture. Also, our COO, George Broke, is one of the funniest human beings I’ve ever met, so there’s never a working day when I’m not doubled over in hysterics at least once.”

What is the worst?

“Well, I’m lucky enough to be in a position where I can change things if they’re not working, so I have no complaints.”

What has been the most pivotal point of your career so far?

“There have been more than one, but in each instance I’m going to point to friends and the moment that they said “Of course you can do it” which spurred me to take leaps of faith, knowing that they’d catch me if I didn’t find a soft landing.”

What is the best advice you’ve ever had?

“My dad always said it would serve me better to know a little bit about lots of things than a lot about a single thing – his view was that this would make me equally conversant with a prince or a pauper, which he interpreted as a sign of both intelligence and humanity. There have been times when I’ve watched or read things that have been deathly dull, just because I have his words ringing in my ears.”

The interior of The Soke make a welcome departure from the usual stark setting of mental wellbeing clinics
What’s your context outside of work?

“I’m single and live in London. Since I lost my boxer, Casper, a couple of years ago, I’ve become a very popular dog sitter for all my friends who, rather dubiously, are now militantly opposed to me getting another dog of my own.”

What was your ‘normal’ day to day life like pre COVID-19?

“When you’re trying to get a new business off the ground there isn’t really a ‘normal’ day or routine. The only thing that was consistant was that there was a lot of to-ing and fro-ing from one meeting to the next. I confess, moving the meetings online was absolutely fine with me.”

What is your day-to day life like now after Lockdown?

“The renovation of the Soke building was completed during the lockdown so now that we’re able to work from work (mental health is an essential service so we’re fully operational), my daily life is very different than it had been for months during which I’d been working from home. That said, I think that like everyone else, we’ve now incorporated Zoom into our standard practice for meetings, and on that side of things I don’t imagine that things will ever return to the way they were.”

How has the Corona crisis impacted you personally and professionally?

“On a personal front: my mother and my brother are abroad and I haven’t seen them for 12 and 10 months, respectively. On the professional front: I’m definitely one of the lucky ones – I have a job and my sector isn’t under threat. The benchmark for good fortune doesn’t need to be very high these days.”

What are you finding challenging right now?

“The weight gain that comes with menopause. Covid had nothing to do with it.”

What has got you through? What have been your coping strategies?

“Humour has generally been a useful tool throughout my life, which has had its fair share of twists and turns. I’m a survivor of revolution, destitution and significant bereavements – but I still haven’t come across that thing that isn’t [darkly] funny.”

Do you feel that Lockdown has changed your outlook and if so how?

“I suspect that, like many others who were lucky enough not to have had everything upended by the pandemic, I used enforced isolation as an opportunity to purge my life of activities and people that weren’t bringing me joy.”

Personally how have you managed your mind and wellbeing throughout Lockdown?

“My inner peace is fuelled by time spent in the company of dogs. This isn’t a flippant comment – I’m genuinely at my most content when I can spend a few idle hours in a park with a dog, I find their natural euphoria to be contagious.”

What are your thoughts on travel right now?

“I’m not travelling and have no plans to travel. The threat of quarantining and the uncertainty around the rules don’t make it very appealing.”

What are your current handbag essentials?

“My glasses. I’m becoming increasingly helpless without them.”

What gets you through Working from Home?

“Ice cubes. I’ve developed a habit for iced coffee & tea.”

What is your work wardrobe like now from what it used to be? 

“I now wear a jacket with my jeans.”

What are your current 5 essential items of clothing?

“Jeans. A scarf. And three layers of anything.”

What is your vision for the future of your business?

“I hope that a time will come when everyone takes a proactive interest in their psychological and emotional wellbeing and that when they do, they view The Soke to be a trusted champion for good behavioural health.

Enjoyed this article? Then you will find this article about how yogi Sara Quiriconi manages anxiety attacks

In part 1, yogi, author, actress, model and cancer survivor Sara Quiriconi (AKA @Livefreewarrior) told us how she finds her way out of a panic spiral, here she tells us how, on a daily basis she works to prevent an anxiety attack getting to that point.

“Feeling stressed out? You’re not alone. Whether you’re working from home, self-quarantined, you’ve been made redundant or you’re just feeling the effects of the information the news is pouring at us, with matters taken out of our control, anxiety is at an all-time high. 

Even in times that you feel emotionally well, it’s important to use emotional maintenance tools to prevent anxiety from setting in. While therapy can be a useful option, it may not be at the moment for many reasons. However, the following tools are what I use daily to manage anxiety and emotions, and which can be useful in these unsettling times for staying as balanced as is humanly possible.

EAT OPTIMALLY

While we may not be able to control the world around us, we do have 100% control over what we put into our bodies. Every day I make it a point to eat a broad range of healthy, high-fiber and nutrient-dense foods. These particular foods help my moods and keep my immune system feeling strong and resilient. 

It’s never a good time to get sick, but especially right now, keeping my immune system sharp is at the top of my priority list. I’ve been loading up on nature’s Vitamin C foods, such as berries, oranges, tomatoes, and other summer fruits, including watermelon, melon and cherries. Not only are they hydrating, they’re also packed with nourishing vitamins and powerful antioxidants.

In Ayurvedic medicine, when one feels an imbalance in their Dosha energies (there are three: Pitta, Vata and Kapha), it’s believed you can heal those imbalances with the right foods. Typically, in the United States, you’d eat these foods in the fall time, to help us ground with the change in seasons. I believe they have the ability to ground us now too. Which is why I’ve been eating more cooked root vegetables and cooked squashes, such as sweet potatoes, butternut and spaghetti squash, zucchini and beets. All of these foods are grown close to the earth and provide an inner sense of warmth and comfort.

MEDITATION

Without a still mind, we are nothing more than a machine. A mind with constant chatter can be a very unsettling and loud, chaotic place, which is why I meditate.

I’m far from being the perfect meditator – often in fact I allow my mind just to wander off and see where it goes. Successful meditation isn’t about emptying the mind to be completely blank. Successful meditation is putting in that effort to be alone with yourself, with no additional external influences. It’s to have that space to SEE what comes to mind, to become aware of when your mind wanders off to other subjects, and to practice bringing your focus back to one point or target (typically your breath but it can be a candle light, or even a spot on the floor). 

Every morning, I take 10 minutes in the morning to sit, breathe, think, wander, and practice, before checking my phone, and even pouring myself water or coffee. I practice bringing my thoughts back to my breathing, my body moving subtly with my breath, and focusing on my own personal mantra and power phrase that reminds me of my personal goals and purpose in life. 

ALLOWING MYSELF TO BE 

I’ve recognized at this point in my life, that being positive and happy all the time is just not sustainable. It’s human to feel sad, disappointed, hurt, upset and angry. To feel and have emotion IS to be human.

What do I do in those emotional times? I give myself to permission to be. I give myself permission to cry when I need to (however, I put a time limit on it) instead of holding back tears to be tough. I give myself permission to take it easy some mornings instead of ploughing through the to-do list on my calendar. I give myself permission to blow off the afternoon and watch something on Netflix for an hour if I’m inspired to, instead of working on the next client project. I give myself permission to self-preserve, and let go of the pressure that I need to achieve something incredible during this time period. 

Give yourself to permission to BE too.

YOGA & MOVEMENT

Movement is a a non-negotiable for me in my day. In fact, I schedule in an hour in my calendar and day specifically for yoga, running, or some form of exercise. It doesn’t have to be the full hour, or it can even be split up in the day. For example, running in the morning, practicing yoga and abs later in the afternoon. Either the time or movement is a daily part of my lifestyle, no matter what.

I have a few mindset habits that help me stick to it: I leave my yoga mat out next to my desk to stretch whenever throughout the day. My running sneakers, headphones, and hat for running are by the door, ready to go for some outdoor air. And, I have a set run route and yoga practice that I complete, making this habit excuse-proof. 

That consistency of doing something good for my body that leaves it energized, awakened, and renewed is empowering, leaving me feeling resilient for whatever stress the day brings my way. 

You can do it to. With a bit of planning, it’s easy to make movement (and any of these healthy activities) a part of your daily routine as well. 

How to prevent anxiety
MAKING A “REVERSE BUCKET LIST”

You cancelled your summer trip. Spring break just didn’t happen. Visiting the family last month is impossible with air travel bans. What the…argh!?

You’re not alone in this #FML feeling. We’ve all had to cancel our travel in some way or another, myself included. As a wellness travel content creator and actor, I missed out on a lot plans that were in the calendar and flight plans that now are just impossible. 

Instead of dwelling on what I am not doing on my future bucket list, I’m looking back and creating a reverse bucket list. Where did I go in the past four or five years? Looking back through old hard drives and video files, what memories did I maybe forget or pass by? What locations did I surprisingly love when I visited? Who were some of the amazing individuals I was fortunate to connect with on my adventures? 

Reversing this list shows me all that my bucket is already full. Suddenly, anything that can happen in the future now feels like extra cherries on top.

GETTING GOOD SLEEP

Quality sleep is related to our personal well-being in just about every aspect. There’s not one element of our well-being that isn’t correlated, so why not put more of a priority towards the activity we spend 1/3 of our lives doing?

In times of uncertainty, it’s easier said than done however – anxious thoughts are rob those precious REM cycles and Zzz’s in the night. Habits that help me get better quality sleep in difficult times  are:

• going to bed and waking up the same time each day — weekends included

• no eating or snacking 2-3 hours prior to bedtime

• leaving my phone and other connected devices (email and social media, in particular) in another room after 9:30m

•   creating the optimal sleep environment, including a cool temperature, light and noise blocking

•   watching a relaxing series, reading a book before bed, and journaling in my gratitude journal (see below)

DISCONNECT FROM SOCIAL MEDIA

It’s human to feel, and it’s human to compare. Social media gives us both of those elements. Except, looking and scrolling on social media endlessly won’t get you any closer to actually achieving your life goals unless you get off the platform and start doing them in your real life. 

When I find myself getting sucked into the rabbit hole scroll, I take a pause, recognize what I’m doing, what I’m feeling and if I can, acknowledge why I’m doing it. Often I’m avoiding doing something else that I really need to get done and am procrastinating; or, feel the pressure to keep up with the comments, DMs, and what others are doing to stay “connected.” 

To be honest, the only connection and ‘like’ that truly matters the most is the one I have with myself. When I give myself that pause to break away from posting, sharing or commenting, I have so much more creative energy to actually accomplish some of the other creative endeavors I’m truly passionate about. For examples, acting, learning new monologues or accents, developing the script for a short film, writing fresh wellness blogs, or editing a new travel “reverse bucket list” video. These are equally, if not more, important for my creativity and connection than social media. Then, the only person I need to compare myself to is to my own self that I was yesterday  Remember that, and apply it to yourself as well. 

DEVELOP PERSONAL KNOWLEDGE

“Always learning” is a phrase in my life that I take seriously. I need to be learning and taking in new information to feel alive, creative and involved in my artistic crafts to continuously be inspired. Plan ahead, so that you don’t feel stuck in the moments you need them the most. What I do is, instead of having to search for them, I keep a log, or playlist, that’s ready to just hit play. These vary, depending on the inner emotion or motivation I’m in need of in that moment, but here’s a quick list of examples I keep on hand:

On YOUTUBE:

For motivation, search “Simon Sinek” for an honest dose of motivation.

For creativity, I’m personally getting back into acting and have been  listening to Backstage (in particular, Ricky Gervais & Giancarlo Esposito) for insights on the film and TV industry.

Other APPS:

For learning, I’m a huge fan of both 12 Min (listen to best-sellers in 12 minutes, give or take) and MasterClass (learning a variety of crafts from masters in their art forms).

For more education and self-inspiration, I purchased both eBooks “Girl, Stop Apologizing” and my own “Living Cancer Free” eBook. And, in eMagazine version, I purchased an annual subscription of “Conde Naste Traveller” and “Travel + Leisure.”

These particular topics may not relate directly to your interests. But, I encourage you to look in various mediums and forms for tools that inspire you to keep your head high, informed and always learning too. 

ACKNOWLEDGE GRATITUDE

It’s no secret, expressing gratitude is the attitude of true wealth. Being grateful for what you already do have increases your feel-good emotions, and puts you into the present moment. Instead of wishing you had more into the future, or what you had in the past, gratitude shows you all that you already do own in this current moment. 

What more would one need to fill our own cups full of thanks? Well, we’re tricky humans and always need or want more. And, that’s OK to want better for ourselves! However, when we only focus on more, or what was, that’s where the negativity and unsettling thoughts can creep in. 

This is a newer practice for me, but every night before bed, I jot down in a beautiful journal I was gifted on a recent trip to Indonesia three things I’m grateful for from my day that has passed. That not only reminds me to keep a mental tally during the day to jot down at night, it’s also gives me something beautiful and positive to dream on.”

@livefreewarrior

Read about how Sara manages emotions with different yoga poses here

Notes on mental health:
Please note that these tips are not meant to be a replacement for speaking with a licensed therapist and/or a psychiatrist. Please do not be afraid to seek help if you feel that you or someone else is struggling and could benefit from it. Contact your local GP, family doctor or insurance company and/or your local government/ council to seek other government funded resources for mental health.
Confidential mental health helplines:
US – SAMHSA (Substances Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) Call 1-800-662-HELP (4357)
UK – MIND – Call 0300 123 3393 or text SHOUT to 85258 which is a crisis textile for support in a crisis www.giveusashout.org/get-help/